Alright. Well, now that we have taken a look at where your governments authority comes from and what style of government is used in your world, it is time to take a closer look at the justice system and some underlying principles of government. Today we are going to take a look at the role of government and corrections in your society. So, first, what is the role of your government?
Governments role in society
Government is a large part of our society. But how large of a role does it play in your setting? Is it a totalitarian government that controls or watches over every aspect of your characters’ lives? Do they believe that it is governments responsibility to care for you from the cradle to the grave? Or is it a libertarian style of government that believes the best government is the one that is hardly seen at all? Only concerned with matters of national security and defense, leaving the people to live their lives as they see fit? Or somewhere in between?
Remember, the middle of the road is always much more common than extreme outliers in either direction. So perhaps your government had mandatory state education for all citizens, but not government run healthcare. Or maybe the government assigns people to particular jobs depending on their aptitude tests and guarantees them a certain income level, but knows that there is a large unregulated black market that they don’t bother trying to reign in. Once you have determined your governments role, the next step is to analyze the purpose of laws and punishment in your society.
The purpose of laws and punishment
Wait, the purpose of laws and punishment? Isn’t their purpose to reduce crime? Well, yes and no. No, because without laws, there would be no crimes. Of course, the original authority for the laws would still be present, whether that is divine authority, natural law, or strength alone, which could be trespassed. But for instance, if there were no laws decreeing certain substances illegal to ingest in one form or another, then it would not be a crime to use “illegal” drugs.
So, the very essence of having laws means that there will be crime. And if there is crime, then the law must punish the offender. Otherwise the law has no meaning. And yes, the punishment or sentence of the law is intended to reduce the chance of the law being broken again, but there are several different views of how best the law and punishment is able to accomplish that.
Deterrence is one of the most common reasons behind punishment. It’s goal is to make sure that the consequences are severe, or punitive, enough that the would be offender will either not reoffend after his sentence has been completed, or will see the sentence carried out on another offender and will be dissuaded from offending themselves. This viewpoint relies on the risk of punishment out weighing the reward of committing the crime in the would-be offenders’ viewpoint. Examples of this would include traditional imprisonment, mutilations, and ultimately, executions.
The purpose of incapacitation is to ensure that the offender is unable to commit a similar crime again in the future. Imprisonment or house arrest can accomplish a general incapacitation of the offender. More specific incapacitation relating to the crime can also be accomplished, by means such as cutting off a thief’s hands, or cutting out the tongue of a slanderer.
Another viewpoint of corrections, is that their purpose is to rehabilitate the offender and make them fit to live in society again. We are not trying to punish the offenders, but to reeducate and train them to be productive members of society. Examples of this would be community service, mandatory counseling, or halfway houses.
A third viewpoint is that the purpose of correction is to make sure that the offender restores to the victim just compensation for the crime committed against them. The “victim” in these cases can often be the state, or society at large, as well. Traditionally, fines, indentured servitude, or slavery are the means of accomplishing restoration.
This is one of the oldest and most common reasons for punishment. Making sure that the offender receives their “just dues” is the foundation of retribution. The state takes the responsibility and desire for revenge out of the hand of the individual and transfers them to itself. The oldest example of this would be the “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” A punishment originally proscribed in the code of Hammurabi.
Again, most societies will not adhere to strictly one of these philosophies of correction. They may mix and match various ones in varying degrees. Or have half of society be the hardline retribution camp while the other side is the rehabilitative and restoration camp. Or perhaps your society believes in rehabilitation for misdemeanors but in deterrence for felonies and incapacitation for certain capital offenses.
Next week we will take a look at the some of the actual mechanics of the justice system in your government, now that the philosophy and role of your government have been determined!